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Australia Post Office History Essay

Nostalgic fruit labels

Release date: 7 June 2016

The 2016 Nostalgic Fruit Labels stamp issue, released on 7 June 2016, conjures up a bygone era of advertising, design and marketing. The paper labels pasted on to the ends of wooden fruit boxes, between the 1920s and 1970s, are a widely collected form of ephemera and provide a window into the fruit production and export industries of the time.

Christopher Cowles and David Walker were consultants to Jane Levin, the researcher on the stamp issue.

As well as providing invaluable and encyclopaedic advice, the two are authors of an award-winning book on Australian apple labels, which provided vital information on the background of the apple labels featured, as well on labels more generally.

The art of apple branding

The Art of Apple Branding: Australian apple case labels and the industry since 1788 (Apples from Oz) not only delves into the history of the apple-growing industry in Australia, but also explores the role apple labels played in the advertising and marketing.

The book also discusses how the labels were designed and printed. At the end of the book is a full index of every known apple label, complete with historical details around the grower, designer, brand and more. It truly is a treasure-trove of information – the result of over a decade of research, which included interviews with growers and designers of the era.

What began with the intention of producing a book about Tasmanian apple labels, based in part on a final year group essay by David and three fellow Fine Art and Design students studying at the Tasmanian School of Art, grew to encompass all of Australia and became a nationally significant publication.

As David explains:

In 1986 the collector Ray Harrison contacted the Tasmanian School of Art as a result of his receiving a letter from a collector friend in the United States of America (telling him about a student essay on Southern Tasmanian apple labels) …

As a result Ray contacted the Art School and spoke with Chris about his collection of Tasmanian fruit labels. This was the catalyst for Chris to contact each of the four now ex-students to gauge their interest in picking up the project and potentially taking it further to a more thorough study and producing a publication. David was the only one to agree.

Over the next fifteen years we researched, on a part time basis, public and private collections nationally and internationally. It involved much letter writing-before the use of emails, oral history interviews and when we could afford it some trips interstate to interview artists, growers and view collections. We attended two Ephemera Society of Australia conferences, which enabled us to enter the world of the collector and make some worthwhile connections with collectors and academics studying this area.

Although Ray’s collection was listed in the National Library of Australia’s Australian Historic Records Register of 1988, through our research we contributed another 44% of rare and unique labels to his collection.

In 2006, the book won a National Print Award Silver Medal for Chris’ book design and for the print overseer, Rod Poole. In 2007 it was shortlisted for both The Tasmania Book Prize and The University of Tasmania Prize for a Book Published in Tasmania. It won the latter award.

The Australian Post Office

In 1901 the various British colonies in Australia were federated into the Commonwealth of Australia. A number of new Federal Government Departments were formed to take over responsibility for national issues. One such was the Postmaster General's Department, which was given responsibility for telephones, telegraphs, and mail. Its commercial body was the Australian Post Office, although this name was not widely adopted before the 1950s.

They took over a wide range of telephones from the various State administrations and set about rationalising them to gain the benefits of bigger supply contracts and simplified spare parts and maintenance. By about 1914 the range had been reduced to the point that a list of the remaining "standard" phones could now be issued. Each phone was assigned a Tele number.


Left: Gustav Kopsch, first Chief Mechanic of the PMG Department.





Left: Telephone Workshops, Sydney , 1912





After World War 1, the APO examined the range of phones they had and started looking for economies and updates. They had already decided on the British Ericsson N2500 to replace the Commonwealth Ericsson wall phone. The "tin box" desk phones showed promise and were briefly used, but they were soon replaced by the new bakelite phones. The BPO trialled a model and the APO soon adopted it as well. They also tried to encourage local manufacture of phones. The Australian telephone industry got off to a rather shaky start, but local companies Western Electric, AWA and later STC and TMC soon picked up on the technology and were able to produce many parts locally. In return, the PMG Workshops cooperated closely with them and shared development of new technologies. The APO increasingly awarded contracts to the local firms.

The numbering system for telephone models was changed in the 1930s when the first bakelite phones were introduced. The British had designated their first phones the 100 Series, and this was also adopted in Australia. A similar pattern was being adopted overseas , and this was to later cause some confusion in the Australian series among collectors. In times of emergency and short supply, phones were sourced from the United States to meet demand. Their U.S. series numbers have sometimes been incorrectly substituted as Australian series numbers.

The APO continued to encourage local manufacture, and allocated contracts on a limited competition basis to achieve this. Contracts were awarded to AWA, STC, TMC and Ericssons in large amounts to build up and preserve Australian expertise and capacity. This policy worked, and gradually the APO was able to help develop a large Australian manufacturing industry.

Following World War 2 the Post Office found itself in trouble. The telephone system, ignored during the war years, was not coping with post-War expansion. In 1950 there were just over a million telephones, but by 1963 this number had more than doubled. And this did not count the unhappy people still waiting for phones. Of Australia's 7000 telephone exchanges, 5000 were magneto or CB manual exchanges. STD and international direct dialling were still just a dream. A far-sighted national upgrade plan was worked out, involving Transmission, Switching, National Numbering, and Call Charging. The plan had to be farsighted because a lot of the technology that would be necessary simply hadn't been invented yet.

The most immediate changes were the introduction of 6 or 7-digit telephone numbers and the development of a new telephone, the 800 series. Crossbar switching became the new standard. As time passed, optical fibre was trialled and introduced. Solar power and radio were developed and brought into the customer network. They were combined into the solar-powered Digital Radio Concentrator System for remote areas. STD and ISD became progressively available as the bigger exchanges were automated.

The Australian telephone Series numbers followed the British series numbers fairly closely, but in 1960s the two parted company. Australia skipped the British 700 series completely (although some were imported for use on PAXs) and went to the locally-developed 800 series.

In 1975, to continue to meet post-World War 2 development, the telephone division was split off into a new operation called . For the first time the telephone branch could manage its own money, raise its own capital, and (for a while) keep its own profits and reinvest them back into the network.







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